The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many meat processors to alter their business operations in order to maintain their sales. In the case of RJ’s Meats & Groceries, an award-winning meat processor in Hudson, Wis., it spurred owner Rick Reams to move forward on a long-planned idea – letting his shoppers order their products online.

“We have always encouraged phone ordering,” Reams says. “We acted fast and opened an online platform for people to place orders also. I have wanted to do this for years, and this just pushed me enough to get it figured out.”

Reams says that even after the current crisis has lessened, he plans to keep the online shopping option for his consumers and wants to implement an online shipping option as well.

Reams has always been a proponent of giving customers multiple options to buy his products. Several years ago, he installed a meat vending machine outside shop in Hudson, so that customers could buy their bacon, brats or chicken breasts outside of store hours. Last year, he opened a second business, K’Nack, inside the Keg and Case Market food hall in St. Paul, Minn. The food hall concept, essentially a giant food court, sells sandwiches along with a selection of snack sticks and other RJ’s products.

During the Corona pandemic, the Keg and Case market has had to close down to comply with social distancing guidelines. RJ’s Meats remains open in Hudson and has seen an increase in traffic. Along with the chance to shop at a fully stocked meat case, consumers are looking to support local businesses at this time. The store did have to implement changes for the safety of shoppers and employees alike.

“We only allow eight individuals at a time in our retail store,” Reams says. “We have also shortened the hours we are open by four hours a day and are closed on Sundays. This allows us extra time to sanitize the retail area and keep it fully stocked. It also allows employees extra rest time. Everyone is very appreciative of the shortened hours and Sundays off -- probably no one more than me!”

On Saturdays, when the store is at its busiest, the store will have a door guard to keep track of how many people are at the store at one time. Most often, Reams takes the job, and he’s come to enjoy the role.

“It gives me the chance to just talk with my customers, renew old friendships and create new ones,” he says. “I was able to personally thank each customer for choosing to shop at my store, and they got to thank me in person for being here for them. That meant a lot to me. It reminded me why I like what I do; I like to interact with the people, laugh, joke, smile, and even discuss serious issues, but no politics or religion!”

Reams and his staff are working to provide products to his K’Nack customers in Minnesota as well. The company offers pre-order curbside delivery one evening a week outside the Keg & Case Market.

“Many have been appreciative of us bringing product to them,” Reams adds.

RJ’s has done its best to navigate the changing situations that the pandemic has brought. Employee welfare has been modified to include daily temperature checks, and employees are provided with extra masks and sanitizers. Social distancing is encouraged as much as possible. Reams says that the meat supply in the country is an ongoing concern. However, he knows a smaller slaughter facility less than an hour away from RJ’s, so he has a backup should he ever run short of product from his regular suppliers.

Reams, who also serves as the president of the American Association of Meat Processors, lauds the help that AAMP has provided its members during this time. He believes that his business will emerge from the pandemic stronger, having learned lessons from this unprecedented time.

“Expect the unexpected,” Reams says. “Don't let it upset you, harness that energy to thinking about the solution, and that solution may come from a source least expected.”